Review: The 108 Stars of Destiny are back, this time with beavers.
Gamers looking for an old-school style turn-based RPG, look no further. Suikoden V represents a throwback to the good ?ole days of the PS One where emphasis was placed on story rather than flashy summons, high-budget CG graphics, or streaming worlds. For longtime Suikoden fans, the series has always been a stable product of consistency dating from Suikoden I to Suikoden III. Then in came Suikoden IV. To the dismay of many fans, Suikoden IV took a step backwards for the series as it changed a lot of what people loved about the series.
Gone were the six character parties, the ever-expanding castle, and interesting characters. Replaced by an oversimplified battle system, an endless oceanic journey, and a protagonist who's running style was similar to that of a gimped pigeon. Many fans were weary of what direction the series was headed to after the release of IV, along with its disappointing sequel Rhaspodia (Suikoden Tactics in the States). Complaints were numerous, though more revolved around the revamped battle system, which took the number of characters in a party down to four. Apparently Konami listened to the complaints of its gamers as Suikoden V marks a definitive return to the series' roots that made the first three games a success.
Players will see a return of everything that made the first two games a cult success: the return of six-character parties, the use of runes, large-scale warfare, interesting mini-games, an expanding castle, a world map, and of course recruitment of the 108 Stars of Destiny. New to the series is the addition of a ?formation' system during battle in which the player's party gets bonus stats (+10 PDF, -20 MDF, etc.) based on how they're lined up. The choices between an all-out barrage to standing defensively while regaining hp adds an entirely new strategic element to battles. Additionally, players can now carry guests and extra characters with them, allowing for character swapping in the middle of battle akin to Square Enix's Final Fantasy X.
In traditional Suikoden style, large-scale warfare plays a huge role in the game. This time around, players are given the freedom to wage war across a map in a turn-based combat system analogous to rock, paper, and scissors which can be split into land and naval warfare. On land, cavalry beats infantry, infantry beats archers, and archers beat cavalry. Naval battles consist of the same exact system, but instead use rams, combat ships, and archery ships. Rams are strong against archery ships, combat ships against rams, and archery ships against combat ships. The benefits for adding recruited characters into your various units, allows for bonuses such as the use of runes or the addition of a catapult.
Aside from a return to the old style of gameplay, Suikoden V continues the series' standard of a well-written story featuring political intrigue, genocide, and backstabbing a plenty. The gripping tale takes the player six years before the events of Suikoden I and nine years before Suikoden II where the Kingdom of Falena is caught in a period of political intrigue and corruption. Players take control of the Royal ?Prince' of Falena whose family becomes entrapped in between two warring families, the Godwins and the Barows. They have the ambition to take over the Queendom of Falena through acquiring the Royal Family's coveted true Sun Rune or marrying the Queesn's daughter, Lymsleia. As it gets closer to the point a suitor has to be chosen in order to become Queen, the Prince is sent out to investigate potential suitors. From there he becomes involved with the outside world where people have hopes, dreams, and fears of the Royal Family. As a result of the game's timeframe, players can expect to see recurring characters from other Suikoden games, including the usual pair of Viki and Jeane.
Where Suikoden V manages to shine is through presenting the player its large cast of characters while avoiding many of the pitfalls of overly used RPG clich?s. Each of the 108 Stars of Destiny is developed, with his or her own unique reasons for joining the Prince's army. In a game with such a robust character lineup, players are guaranteed to find characters that they'll identify with. If you're not into Character A, then there's guaranteed to be Character B who you'd love to have in your party. This is part of what gives Suikoden V its charm. Players will care about the character's plights to the point where the story becomes almost gut wrenching at times.
Composer Norikazu Miura increases the games dramatic ambiance through the composition of a fully immersive soundtrack. The soundtrack ranges from your typical Suikoden fanfare to the dramatic track ?Overcoming the Grief.? In a pleasant return for many fans, ?the Night Before the Decisive Battle? returns after its brief departure from Suikoden III and IV. With returning tracks and beautifully composed ones, Suikoden V is full of tunes that you'll be humming long after you turn off your PS2.
Like Suikoden IV the game features voice acting during the cutscenes. Though some voices are a hit or miss, Suikoden V features some of the most consistent voice acting for an English game. From displaying Queen Arshtat's wide variety of emotions to characters with only several lines, most of the voice acting in the game is well-done and properly suits the dramatic mood.
Visually speaking, one could see that the artists spend a lot of time perfecting the cut-scene graphics. During cutscenes, every character is fully realized with emotion and it shows. They represent some of the best cel-shaded graphics seen on the PS2, though the graphics in the game can be divided into two categories: cutscenes and in-game. Unfortunately, the in-game graphics fail to live up to the gorgeous cutscenes as they fall below current PS2 standards.
While it could be said that this was done in order to achieve an ?old-school? effect, players will find that both the characters and towns during gameplay leave a lot to be desired. Towns have a rather bland appeal, and are often huge without a lot of townsfolk causing towns to appear barren and desolated. Even if it's the Imperial
Capital of Falena. When walking around town, the character sprites are highly undetailed to the point where at times you can't tell the difference between a recruitable character or a normal townsfolk. Aside from the characters, the rune effects in battle are subpar using effects that almost seem as if they could be rendered on the PSOne.
Another issue in the game is the camera. While Konami attempted to give players a choice in camera, the two zoomed in angles are almost impossible to play with. Any players will find themselves bumping into objects if they don't use the standard default camera. Adding to the problems in Suikoden V is the loading issue. Finishing a battle (yes, every battle), moving between towns, and even opening the menu could prompt a short pause of gameplay. While these issues do manage to drag down the overall presentation of the game, the positives easily outweigh them.